Archive for June, 2010

Visegrad, Memory and Justice

Posted in Uncategorized on June 30, 2010 by visegrad92

The survivors of a terrible but neglected atrocity in a historic Bosnian town continue to campaign for remembrance and accountability. Peter Lippman joins them on their return to the site.

Published on Open Democracy

Author: Peter Lippman

On 14 June 2010, approximately one hundred people, mostly women, crowded into a yard next to a half-demolished house on Pionirska Street in Visegrad, eastern Bosnia. On that day in 1992, extreme nationalist Serb troops forced about seventy local Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) into this house and torched it, shooting those who tried to escape through the windows. A few survived; fifty-nine are known to have been killed in this war crime.

The memorial observance of this anniversary – only the second to be conducted at the scene of the crime – was organised by Zene Zrtve Rata (Women Victims of War), a national body which advocates for women who were expelled during the war, were sexually abused, or are seeking information about their missing loved ones. They also call for the arrest of accused war criminals in the Visegrad region and throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Bakira Hasecic, leader of Women Victims of War, spoke: “We are fighting for truth and justice, so that this kind of crime will never again be perpetrated against anyone, regardless of their ethnicity. We are still alive. Let us remember what happened as long as we are alive, and as long as our descendants are alive.”

It appears that the women survivors’ struggle for justice and memory, fifteen years after the end of the Bosnian war of 1992-95, remains an uphill battle.

The survivors’ story

The picturesque town of Visegrad, immortalised by Ivo Andric in his novel The Bridge on the Drina and the award to him of the Nobel prize for literature, was the scene of brutality that matched any other crime during Bosnia’s war, and precious few of the perpetrators have answered for their crimes.

Among them are the seven military figures, including Ljubisa Beara and Vujadin Popovic, convicted on charges of genocide on 10 June 2010 by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague in connection with the massacre at Srebrenica in July 1995. The genocide at Srebrenica, understandably, overshadows the crimes committed in Visegrad. However, the survivors of Visegrad require justice no less than any other victims of the Bosnian war.

The two most notorious perpetrators of the crimes in Visegrad, Milan Lukic and his cousin Sredoje Lukic, were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity in July 2009 by the ICTY. Milan Lukic received a life sentence, and Sredoje Lukic thirty years. Among other crimes, the Lukic cousins were convicted for the torching of the house and its inhabitants at Pionirska Street. The Lukices committed a similar crime two weeks later, on 27 June 1992, when approximately seventy people were burned to death in the Visegrad settlement of Bikavac.

In the fire on Pionirska Street, the youngest victim was a two-day-old baby, and the oldest was 71 years of age.

But justice was not served completely. During the war, about 3,000 of Visegrad’s 13,000-odd Bosniak population (some 60% of the town’s total number) were murdered. Many were slaughtered on the famous bridge and then thrown into the Drina; others were thrown off the bridge and then shot. At least 600 women and 100 children were among those killed.

Serb troops in Visegrad looted and torched houses, making sure that no Bosniaks remained. Visegrad is also notorious as a centre of mass rape – a vicious practice that has that has been recognised as a war crime, though in the case of Visegrad the victims have certainly not seen the justice this promises. At least 200 women were imprisoned and abused at the hotel-spa Vilina Vlas on the outskirts of Visegrad, and only around ten survived. The Lukic cousins were heavily implicated in these sexual crimes but, inexplicably, relevant charges were not included in theirprosecution.

Several lesser war criminals have been tried and convicted in Bosnia’s domestic war-crimes court, but this offers little comfort to the victims. Bakira Hasecic told me, “Many of us would have returned to our home, but we were unable to do so because war criminals walk free in Visegrad.” In 2000 the ICTY sentenced one of the Lukics’accomplices, Mitar Vasiljevic, to twenty years’ imprisonment. That sentence was reduced on appeal to fifteen years and, in March 2010, Vasiljevic was released early for good behaviour. His return to Visegrad was celebrated by a brass-band from nearby Serbia.

Members of Women Victims of War state that there are fourteen war-crimes cases with sufficient evidence to prosecute immediately; however, the Bosnian court, where most such cases are now heard, has a backlog numbering in the thousands, and jail space is also pitifully insufficient.

Even when justice for Visegrad is served, it has in some cases fallen flat. In May 2010, after an appeals trial, Momir Savic was sentenced to seventeen years’ imprisonment for crimes committed in Visegrad. Savic had been a commander of units of the army of the Republika Srpska, and he was sentenced for crimes including the arrest, deportation, mistreatment, and murder of civilians. However, in late 2008 during his appeal process, Savic was released from jail under restricted conditions pending a final verdict. Upon the announcement in June of Savic’s sentence, he disappeared and has not been seen since. Bosnian commentators have severely criticised Saban Maksumic, presiding judge of the Bosnian war-crimescourt, for his excessive leniency in allowing Savic freedom before his sentencing.

In the course of the day’s travels I ate lunch with members of the survivors’ organisation, and they described to me their ongoing struggle. Mirsada Tabakovic, vice-president of Women Victims of War, was among those who had been forced onto a bus and expelled from Visegrad in June 1992. She recounted to me how at one point, the women and children were removed from the bus and the bus was sent back towards Visegrad, carrying only the men. The men were then killed and their bodies were thrown into a ravine at Pacenik; Ms Tabakovic lost her brother and uncle in this incident. Their remains were found in 2001.

Mirsada Tabakovic told me, “The first time I returned to Visegrad, in 2000, my arms and my legs were trembling. Now I have come back ten times, and I do not feel so nervous anymore. But this is not the same city it once was, where I remember the lovely days of my childhood. We had our homes, our work, and suddenly everything was lost. We weren’t aware of what a rich life we had! I have met some people here who surprised me, and said, ‘Why won’t you Muslims come back?’ – but they are few. I lost fifteen members of my family, and this is no longer my city.”

An endless search

There is a website about what happened in Visegrad, maintained by a young man who wishes to remain anonymous in order to protect his security; such is the ongoing problem of those working to preserve the memory of what happened in Visegrad. “Hasan” further described to me the work of the women of the survivors organisation. Seeking information about the whereabouts of the suspected war criminals, they have bought photos and film footage from demobilised Serb soldiers who were in need of money. At times they photographed the suspects themselves and published these photos. “These are women who were raped, or lost their husbands”, Hasan told me. “They are doing work that the state should be doing.”

I asked Hasan if this was dangerous work. He replied, “These are women who do not consider that they have anything to lose, after what they have been through. They have received death threats, but they do not care.

One of the women at the lunch table had been imprisoned in the house at Pionirska street; she managed to climb through a back window and escape. She participated in the conversation normally, even smiling and laughing at times. I wondered how it could feel to have been thus sentenced to death, to have lost all of one’s family, and to carry on.

On this anniversary, photos of the victims were strung up along the side of the half-wrecked house at Pionirska street, where trees are growing up out of what was once its living room. A man who had lost his whole family there was crying. A woman was touching some of the photos and weeping. She kissed a photo of her sister. Television photographers pushed into the crowd in order to get a close shot.

No Bosnian politicians, those who will flock to Srebrenica in July, were present to remember Visegrad.

Bakira Hasecic lamented the difficulties of her organisation’s struggle, especially in finding the remains of lost relatives and in prosecuting the war criminals. She said: “Now Serbs in Visegrad say, ‘I don’t know anything about what happened, I didn’t see anything.’ But it is a small town, everyone knows everything, everyone is connected in some way. You could know what your neighbour ate for breakfast. If I knew where someone’s grave was, I would not sleep, I would not get off the telephone until the right people knew. But at the rate these things are being done, this work will require another thousand years to process the war criminals.”

Made in Portugal – Hasan Nuhanovic

Posted in Uncategorized on June 30, 2010 by visegrad92

Last week the body of Muhamed Nuhanović was identified whose post-mortem remains had been exhumated from the mass grave site in Kamenica. The identification was confirmed by his brother Hasan who that same day wrote the letter being published by Dani.

Written by: Hasan Nuhanović (translation P. Lippman)

Image: Hasan Nuhanovic

LETTER FROM SREBRENICA

Today I identified my brother by his tennis shoes.

In the fall they got in touch with me about my mother. They found her, or what was left of her, in a creek, in the village of Jarovlje, two kilometers from Vlasenica. My home town. The Serbs who live there threw garbage on her for fourteen years. She wasn’t alone. They killed another six in the same place. Burned. I hope they were burned after they died.

Last fall, also, I went to court to see Predrag “Czar” Bastah. A Serb in Vlasenica told me — I gave him a hundred marks — that Czar had poured gas on them and lit them on fire. When I saw him in the courtroom, they were trying him for slaughtering people in ’92, there was nothing for me to see. Just some stunted piece of trash. Probably he waited all his life for his chance to be “somebody” for five minutes. And he got his chance in ’92. After that there were no more Muslims around to slaughter until Srebrenica fell. He waited more than two more years and then my mother and a few others fell into his hands. His commander, who ordered the killings, now works here in Sarajevo. That’s what another Serb told me — I gave him three hundred marks.

I’m preparing to bury them this year next to my father. They identified my father four years ago, eleven years after his execution. They found a little more than half his bones, they say. His skull smashed from behind. The doctor couldn’t tell me whether that happened after he died. They found him in a secondary mass grave, Cancari. Kamenica near Zvornik. There are thirteen mass grave sites there. The Chetniks dug them up with bulldozers from the primary grave at Pilica, the Branjevo farm, a little before the time ofDayton, piled them on trucks and took them there, forty kilometers away, to dump them and bury them again.

There were around 1500 of them killed there. That’s what they say at the Tribunal. I read the statement of one of the murderers who says, “I couldn’t shoot anymore, my index finger was starting to get numb from so much killing. I was killing them for hours.” Someone, he says, had promised them five marks for each Muslim that they kill that day. And he says that they made the bus drivers get out and kill at least a few of the Muslims so that they wouldn’t talk about this to anyone later.

Oh yes, poor drivers. Poor Drazen Erdemovic, who says that he had to kill or he would be killed. They all had to do it, you see, and only Mladic is guilty because, they say, he ordered it all. And when they catch Mladic, some day, he’ll say, like a real Serb hero, “I am taking the responsibility for all Serbs and for the whole Serb nation. Only I am guilty, judge me and let everyone else go.” And then all of us, we and the Serbs and the rest of them, we’ll be satisfied and happy. We’ll rip off our clothes and jump into bed together. We will no longer need the foreigners for anything.

Last year they put up headstones for everyone, nice ones, white in color, all the same, lined up in rows. Two empty spaces by my father. He’s waiting three years for my mother and his son, Muhamed, for them to be laid next to him.

Then they told me about my mother. I was preparing to bury her by my father this July 11th, 2010.

And then the other day they called me on the phone — they said they had a DNA identification for my brother, but they weren’t a hundred percent sure. They said to come to Tuzla, and I went today.

2

In the spring of ’95, I bought my brother new tennis shoes, Adidas, from some foreigner. He brought them from Belgrade on his way back to Srebrenica from vacation. My brother hadn’t been wearing them more than a month or two, when that all happened. And I bought him Levi 501s, he was wearing those. I know exactly what T-shirt he was wearing and what overshirt.

And today the doctor showed me a photograph — the clothes. He said, there isn’t much, very little, but there are tennis shoes. When he put the picture on the table in front of me, I looked at the sneakers, my brother’s Adidas, as if he had just taken them off the other day. They weren’t even untied.

The doctor brings in a bag and shakes out everything that they found on his remains into a box in front of me. And after waiting for fifteen years I take my brother’s sneakers in my hands. And besides that a belt, with a big metal buckle, and what’s left of his Levis. And his socks, both of them.

I looked for that well-known slogan on the Levis, that would also confirm my brother’s identity. I took the remains of my brother’s jeans into my hands, after fifteen years. Metal buttons. Part of the inside of the pockets. Everything that was made of cotton had fallen apart. Only the synthetic material was left.

Some other tag hangs untouched, just a little dirty, stuck in those threads, in the strands, the fragments.

I read it, looking for the Levis trade mark. It says, “Made in Portugal.”

All day I see that “Made in Portugal” before my eyes. And for my whole life, I think, I will see that. I’m going to hate everything that was “Made in Portugal,” just like I hated Heineken beer that the Dutch UN soldiers had guzzled in Potocari, on the base, less than an hour after they drove all the Muslims off it – handing them over, right into the Serbs’ hands. Or maybe I will love everything that has “Made in Portugal” written on it, everything that will remind me, until the end of my life, of my murdered brother.

3

A Dutch soldier, then, a little younger, came up to me and offered me a beer and a Marlboro. I shook my head. He just shrugged and walked away.

And for fifteen years I, like all the rest, prayed to God that when we finally find out what happened, it will be that they didn’t suffer long, that they didn’t die in torment.

They have been dead for fifteen years. In that year some new children were born. And now those children are fifteen years old. This July 11th will be someone’s fifteenth birthday.

I will never do anything, in any way, that would endanger those children’s future. I would not even think of that. May God grant that this will never happen to anyone again.

But, there is no amnesty, my friend. For the guilty there is no amnesty.

4

The reporters ask me all the time, and again the other day: what is my message for future generations. I tell them about how after Dayton I drove through eastern Bosnia in a car, looking for the traces of the disappeared, the murdered. I knew that near Konjevic Polje, Nova Kasaba, Glogova, on any of the routes towards Srebrenica, there are mass graves, that the meadows are full of them. And when I drove that way when everything was blooming, when it was all green, I did not see that beauty. I only saw the mass graves that those meadows hid. Under the flowers our fathers and brothers were lying, our sons. Their bones.

I drove by the places where Serbs live — I look at them through the window and think, which of them is a murderer? Which of them is a murderer?

It was like that for years. For years. And then, one day, by the road on a meadow where I had heard that a mass grave was concealed, a little girl was playing. She was five or six. Just like my daughter. I knew those were Serb houses.

The little girl ran across the meadow. And everything mixed together in me — sorrow, and pain, and hate.

And then I think, that poor little girl, what is she guilty of? She doesn’t even know what lies under that meadow, under the flowers. I’m sorry for that girl who looked just like my daughter. They could be playing together on that meadow.

And I wish that that little girl and my daughter will never experience what we lived through. Never. They deserve a nicer future. That’s what I said to those journalists. Those last ones were from in Belgrade.

And so, Dr. Kesetovic confirms — the mortal remains of my brother will be prepared for the funeral on July 11th. It is just as if my brother had managed to check in at the last minute, in time to be buried together with my mother, beside my father who lies waiting for them in Potocari.

And so my father, murdered in Pilica and exhumed in Kamenica, my brother, murdered in Pilica and exhumed in Kamenica, and my mother, murdered in Vlasenica and exhumed from under the garbage the creek at Jarovlje, will finally rest beside each other in Potocari.

Bikavac Revisited 27.06.2010

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 28, 2010 by visegrad92

On 27.06.2010, dozens of family members and survivors arrived to Bikavac to mark the anniversary of Bikavac live pyre were around 70 Bosniaks(Bosnian Muslims) were barricaded into a house and burnt alive. Around a dozen American students from the University of Colorado Denver accompanied the survivors and payed their respects to the victims.

Peter Jacob Gorman, one of the students from Colorado took the following photos. We thank him for contributing to the memory of Visegrad Genocide.

Image: Family members of victims kiss the pictures of their loved ones, Bikavac, Visegrad, 2010)

Image: Bosniak women, family members of victims look for their loved ones.

Image: Pictures of victims of the live pyre placed on the site of the massacre.

Image: Bosniak women at the commemoration of the Bikavac masscare.

Image: People crowded the site where Meho Aljic’s house once used to stand.

Image: Meho Aljic, in middle, owner of the house where 70 Bosniaks were burnt alive by Bosnian Serb soldiers in June 1992.

Image: Esad Tufekcic lost his wife and two children in the Bikavac massacre.

Image: Esad Tufekcic and other family members place flowers at the site of the massacre.

Photo credits: Peter Jacob Gorman

Further reading:

* Bosnian Serb pair jailed for burning Muslims alive

What it feels like to be burnt alive

* “We pulled worms out of her arms”: Remembering Zehra

* What is Visegrad Genocide?

The Vilic Family

Posted in Uncategorized on June 25, 2010 by visegrad92

Image: The Vilic family which was burnt alive in Bikavac live pyre. The only remaning member of this family is Hamdija Vilic.

During the Lukic trial, Hamdija was offered a bribe to give a false statement to the court by Lukic’s defence.

Vilic Mina 01.01.1956 Višegrad

Vilic Nihad 01.01.1985 Višegrad

Vilic Nihada 01.01.1981 Višegrad

Vilic Zihmeta 01.01.1984  Višegrad

Mustafa Smajic

Posted in Uncategorized on June 25, 2010 by visegrad92

Image: Mustafa Smajic born in 1933, disappeared in Visegrad 1992.

Saliha Menzilovic

Posted in Uncategorized on June 25, 2010 by visegrad92

Image: Saliha Menzilovic, born 11.07.1978. Burnt alive in Meho Aljic’s house on Bikavac along with around 70 other Bosniak civilians. This crime was perpetrated by Bosnian Serb Army soldiers.

Visegrad, 14.06.1992-14.06.2010

Posted in Uncategorized on June 20, 2010 by visegrad92

Image: A grave of an unidentified Visegrad victim in Straziste cemetary.

Image: A crushed wooden tomb of an unidentified Visegrad victim in Straziste cemetary.

Image: Victim families and survivors gather infront of Adem Omeragic’s house in Pionirska Street to commemorate the victims who were burnt alive in this house on 14.06.1992 by Bosnian Serb Army soldiers.

Image: Survivors look at pictures of Bosnian Serb Army soldiers responsible for committing crimes in and around Visegrad from 1992-1995.

Image: A picture of Radomir(Radovan)Susnjar placed on the remains of Adem Omeragic’s house in Pionirska Street. According to witnesses, Susnjar took part in burning alive around 70 Bosniaks. He lives in France today.

Image: Pictures of Bosniak victims who were burnt alive in Pionirska Street.